An irritable response to a blogger

I was minding my own business this afternoon when I was tweeted by someone who had suggested that ‘you should put a point of view not say the opposition make stuff up‘ and it linked to their blogpost discussing my recent post on the latest Daily Mail attack on immigrants. Basically, the writer of said blog post made the point that there was too much ‘hyperbole’ on the Internet and that:

most of these attacks come from the blogosphere. Here people seem to spend a large amount of time reading newspapers that they know they won’t agree with. This way they can then write a fatuous blog stating in no uncertain terms that everything in the paper is made up and only idiots read it.

I’ll leave this alone for the moment and move onto his real point:

The recent outrage and counter outrage over Harriet Harman’s comments about heroic immigrants sending their dole money abroad is a good example.

Probably unsurprisingly this story broke in the Daily Mail with Tim Shipman giving us the ‘facts’ and Melanie Phillips telling us Harman is ‘immoral’.

Fair enough wouldn’t you say? A news article with a few comments, mostly from Tories but it’s not like anyone is deceived as to the political slant of the Mail. Anyway, the story is about something a prominent Labour person has said so a Tory response is in line with standard journalistic practice.

Not according to the Angry Mob blog it isn’t.

Angry Mob is a website devoted to pointing out the daily lies written by the Mail. In their article More Lies About Immigrants the Shipman article is portrayed as completely misrepresenting Ms Harman’s statement. The key area of discussion was whether she was pleased immigrants were sending job seekers allowance back home or whether they were sending home part of their earnings which included benefits for low income earners.

Angry Mob was not interested in dissecting the Mail’s argument that if you are on income support or housing benefit you shouldn’t have enough money left over to send any home and that the real hero is the unassuming British tax payer who is now funding social security in Africa as well. They just claimed that the Mail made it all up and Ms Harman said nothing of the sort.

This is a shame because the Mail’s argument is pretty easy to pull apart. If people are receiving benefit for being on a low income then they are employed, paying tax, doing a job no Brit wants to do. If they can scrape by and send a few quid home then they are epitomizing the selfless behaviour the Mail now believes is lacking in our society.

Whether you agree with that or not, it is the argument that could be made.

I’m not really sure where to start. Firstly, as I have tried to get across numerous times to the passing readers of this blog, I do not read the Mail simply to write fatuous blog posts about how terrible it is. I write it because bad journalism has a real impact on all of us, it is as pervasive and as poisonous as passive smoking. Secondly, I don’t really think it is ‘fair enough’ that the Daily Mail can attack immigrants simply because it has a certain political agenda and wants to attack a senior Labour figure. It is branded as a newspaper, not a propaganda outlet for any political party; the article was sold as news but was based on a series of lies and distortions.

Frankly, the statement that responding in a ‘Tory’ way ‘is in line with standard journalistic practice’ just highlights poor journalistic practice. A journalistic is supposed to seek legitimate balance, not just open political hostility. Yes, a Tory response is obviously going to be sought out, but the job of the journalist is to put both sides of the argument into clear context so that the reader can make an informed judgement as to which view carries the most weight. In this article Shipman provides a dishonest supporting context for the Tory comments – it is a classic example of anti-journalism. I’m sure real journalists would be utterly appalled of a clearly distorted article like this.

Now, let’s go back to the Shipman article to see if my claims stand.

OK, so what benefits was Harriet Harman specifically referring to, and who was sending them home is what needs to be established. The Mail article quotes Harman:

‘There are many people in my constituency who come from Africa and work and study and bring up their families here.

‘Many of them also send money back to their village in their country of origin.’

Clearly, Harman was referring to immigrants from outside of the EU, specifically, Africans. Next, the benefits:

Some of these families will be receiving child benefit and tax credits to which they are entitled. Charitable generosity has never been confined to the well-off.

So, the benefits being discussed are child benefits – currently a universal benefit that the rich and poor receive alike, and tax credits, something received by all eligible earners.

So, this blogger looks at the Mail’s argument about those receiving ‘income support or housing benefit’ and that they shouldn’t have money left over to send abroad and claims I am not interested in discussing it. But that is the reason I have accused the Mail of spreading more lies about immigrants, income support and tax credits are two very different things. Income support is what is given to someone who cannot work – i.e. a single mother with a young child. Tax credits is the benefit available to anyone over 18 working 37 hours a week or more and earning less than £20,000 per year. Income support entitles you to full housing benefits and council tax benefits, tax credits are paid to ensure you can afford to pay your own rent and council tax because you do not get these benefits.

The Daily Mail is purposely implying that these are immigrants not working and raking in so much in benefits they can afford to send lots of money home, it is a lie, plain and simple. I did consider the Mail’s argument and I did pull apart, quite how the blogger can suggest I ignored it is beyond me. Perhaps what they mean is: ‘It is a shame you didn’t spend more time considering the utterly false argument made by the Daily Mail…’ – it didn’t need attention or time, given that it was false and I pointed out why it was false.

OK, moving on. The Daily Mail article stated that:

Harriet Harman said it should be made easier for immigrants to send benefit payments to relatives abroad.

At a meeting in her constituency, the party’s deputy leader praised claimants who funnel taxpayers’ cash to Africa as ‘hidden heroes’.

Bizarrely she claimed the practice – widely seen as an abuse of the overstretched welfare system – was a way of boosting international aid.

Taxpayers foot a £20million annual bill to pay child benefit to immigrants whose children are not even living in Britain.

Firstly, immigrants are not sending ‘benefit payments to relatives abroad’. This is a lie. They are sending money home whilst possibly – Harman only says that they might be – in receipt of working tax credits and child benefits. This means that a proportion of income sent home could be made up of some benefits. It is not – as the Mail tries so hard to imply – the case that they all get a lump sum of benefits that they just stick in the post to their relatives in Africa. Spending your own money on whatever you want is what any person is entitled to do, just as the wealthy couple can spend their Child benefits on wine if they wish and can afford to – it is their benefit, they can do what they like with it. Likewise, the working tax credit is designed to allow people to pay rent, council tax and live. If they have any income spare they can spend it on whatever they like. The point Harman was making was that it was quite heroic for them to choose to send this home rather than spend it on themselves.

This means, of course, that suggesting that sending their own money to Africa is ‘widely seen as an abuse of the overstretched welfare system’ is an absolutely disgraceful statement, utterly repellent and importantly, completely dishonest. How can receiving tax credits or child benefits to which they are entitled possibly be an ‘abuse’ of the system? The last paragraph of the above quote follows suit, given that this £20 million annual bill is incurred from migration within the EU. It is EU practice for the country that receives the taxes to pay the benefits. So, for example, if a Polish guy lives and works in the UK – so that the UK government gets all of the tax receipts, it is seen as fair that the UK government pays the benefits, even if the children of that worker live elsewhere in the EU. If a British citizen worked in Poland the same would apply.

So, obviously this has nothing to do with the specific immigrants being discussed because they are from outside the EU and therefore outside of this arrangement, this ‘abuse’ and tax bill has nothing to do with the immigrants in question, but nonetheless that Mail is blaming them anyway.

I guess my main rebuttal is this: the blogger claims I was ‘not interested in dissecting the Mail’s argument that if you are on income support or housing benefit you shouldn’t have enough money left over to send any home’. I am making it abundantly clear that this argument was utterly false, given that income and housing benefits were not what was being discussed by Harman. I made that clear in my original post, I pointed out that Harman is talking about working tax credits and child benefits that some of the immigrants might have been receiving whilst the Daily Mail shoved in different benefits that they were all getting to completely distort her points. I dismissed the Mail’s arguments because they were transparently dishonest, not because I was not interested.

As for the blogger’s closing paragraphs:

Political debate is certainly not aided by pretending that everything is a distortion just because it is accompanied by some opinion.

Perhaps if we could all just grow up and have a discussion about the issues rather than believing that everything is some sort of conspiracy people might engage again with politics.

Let me say this. If they still feel I am merely ‘pretending that everything is a distortion just because it is accompanied by some opinion’, then please get in touch because I’ll try even harder to point out that the Daily Mail is branded as a newspaper. Yes, the Melanie Phillips piece was opinion – she is a columnist and plays by slightly different rules – but the Shipman article was news; it was supposed to be based on facts, not opinions. As I have demonstrated above – selecting just a few paragraphs from Shipman’s article – Shipman does distort the views of Harman considerably – talking about different benefits entirely, and inserting EU benefits that have nothing to do with this news story. The whole article is clearly designed to feed into the media narrative that immigrants receive so much in un-earned benefits that they can send some to Africa. If this blogger still genuinely thinks ‘fair enough’ when he reads the Shipman article, then, well it seems they need to drop their frankly patronising pseudo-intellectual attitude and reflect on just what is fiction and fact both in the mainstream media and the ‘blogosphere’.

As I argued originally and have done so again here, these are benefits – universal in the case of Child benefits, an entitlement to any full-time worker earning less than £20,000 in the case of tax credits – that are a basic entitlement for any UK worker. Perhaps the Mail should run an expose next week on the full time ‘indigenous’ recipients of the working tax credit or child benefit who may dare to spend some of their own money on little luxuries for themselves or having a direct debit to Cancer research each month.

PS, please can people stop referring to me in the plural. I am one person. The Angry Mob title refers to the Kaiser Chief song, you know the one: ‘We are the Angry Mob, we read the papers every day, we like who we like, we hate who we hate, but we’re also easily swayed’. The Angry Mob is the Mail reader, not me. The amount of times I have had to explain that has made me seriously consider changing the title of this blog.

PPS, If anyone has a new name suggestion then I really am open to a name change.

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